On Being a Skeptic

Guest Contributor: Nicholas Lester Bell from End of Line

Published on May 7, 2010

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At a recent family gathering, I was talking about participating in “Skeptics in the Pub,” a secular community building activity sponsored by the Center for Inquiry.  I explained that it was a about getting like minded individuals together to socialize, network, debate, etc. The goal was to give something similar to the communities that many give up when they embrace a secular lifestyle.

My mother responded with the question “Isn’t skeptic a negative term?”  As someone who is knee deep in the skepticism movement, I do not carry any of that connotation with the term.  Thinking a bit more broadly though, and it is very easy to see how that term can seem like an insult.

One of the key reasons for this is that we live in a very faith-based society.  The vast majority of people in the world hold beliefs for which there are no evidence.  In fact, most religious advocate abandoning questioning for blind acceptance.  In the Gospel According John, Jesus himself says “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

This willingness to believe without evidence extends far beyond the religious in culture. Belief in ghosts, psychic powers, Big Foot, aliens, etc is common with people of all levels of background and status.  Most people assume things they hear are correct and will only give them up with irrefutable evidence (and some simply refute everything).

Skeptics represent the opposite position, and thus are often cast in a negative light by those are faith-based.  But what exactly does it mean to be a skeptic?  A skeptical worldview is an evidence-based one.  It is an approach to accepting, rejecting, or suspending judgment on new information.  Skepticism requires the new information to be well supported by evidence.

I do not believe this is negative position to take.  In fact, any one utilizing the scientific method are embracing the idea of skepticism. Science attempts to evaluate claims based on verifiability and falsifiability and discourages accepting claims on faith or anecdotal evidence.  This is the core of skepticism.

I am not alone in my position..  Examples of skeptics are easy to come by, from the historical (Galileo and Charles Darwin) to the contemporary (Adam Savage and Penn Jillette).  And today, with the digital reproduction and distribution of knowledge, we have access to unprecedented levels of information.  Thus it is easier to be a skeptic now than anytime before.

I am a lover of knowledge.  I am a questioner.  I am a skeptic.